A Travellerspoint blog

Some birding, some herping

all seasons in one day 85 °F

Recently, I have had a few interesting bird sightings in my neighborhood, probably most notably of which is a CAROLINA WREN that has been seen and heard singing in my alley this week. Prior to this week, I have only ever seen this species ONCE in Oak Park! So very cool!

Today, I headed to the Palos area for some birding, but foremost in my mind, herping. Although it is quite late in the season for herping around here (prime salamander time is March & April), there were a lot of rain showers this morning and the overall damp feeling of today gave me a good feeling that salamanders might be out and about in the preserves (since in rains like this, their underground burrows can flood).

I arrived and almost immediately started seeing Blue-spotted Salamanders, the most expected type in the county. This species is endemic to Great Lakes’ hardwood forests. Other less-common salamander possibilities I had in mind for today, though definitely a longshot for any of them, included Unisexual Mole, Eastern Tiger, Spotted, or Eastern Newt/Eft. Many more species can be found downstate.

After flipping about twenty logs (a relatively small number), my eyes POPPED OUT OF MY HEAD because I had just struck gold — I found one of my most coveted salamander species, the SPOTTED SALAMANDER!!!! This species can be easily distinguished from the Blue-spotted above by, well, the color of the spots! Also, the Spotted has a bit of a larger, more protruding head when compared to the Blue-spotted if you look hard enough. The Spotted is also much rarer in Cook County; of all of my friends who like this sort of thing, only one has seen a Spotted, once, in Cook County. So this was kind a big deal and I was trying my best not to totally freak out about finding one. Especially in June!!!!!

So, my hopes were set on getting a third salamander species/species complex today in order to get a “trifecta” — my hopes were set on Unisexual Mole Salamander, which I had had once at this location in the past. I trudged through the forest, working up quite a sweat, taking note of the birds around me and enjoying one-on-one time with mother nature.

It was fairly birdy, but since my focus was herping, I kept my camera in my bag for most of the time so it wouldn’t get dirty. I did get it out, though, when I spotted a pretty, mid-sized passerine in the trees across a cleaning: blotchy yellow and red plumage means only one thing: an immature male SUMMER TANAGER! This is my first-ever sighting of this species in the Palos Preserves north of the Sag Valley Canal. Super awesome and a very uncommon bird for Cook.

After over a hour and a half of working up a sweat in the afternoon heat and getting my hands absolutely filthy by flipping logs, I happened upon a larger salamander with a very subtle dark blue wash on the bottom instead of bright blue spots: this was a clear Unisexual Mole Salamander! This type’s DNA is complex and cannot be nailed down to the species-level but is definitely a separate type from the others seen today! This type can reproduce on its own, hence the name unisexual. An awesome creature!!!

Bird-of-the-day to the Summer Tanager. Creature-of-the-day, though, of course goes to my lifer Spotted Salamander. I hope you guys can tolerate all these non-bird photos but ever since my friend Simon tipped me off to finding salamanders in Cook County (and now, other places too), I have been HOOKED! This goes to show that even with a specific interest like birding, there is always a chance to broaden one’s focus to learn about other parts of nature — birds are just one small, but absolutely integral, part of larger ecosystems that we, humanity, are tasked with preserving.

Good birding!
World Life List: 1120 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:53 Archived in USA

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I love the salamander posts, Henry. I have learned about something I previously knew very little about, so I appreciate it!

by Susie

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